This article is part of our special report EU citizens at a legal crossroad.
What do the will of Queen Isabel la Católica, the award of the George Cross to the Maltese nation, the purchase of the Island of Herreninsel by King Ludwig II of Bavaria and the renunciation document signed by Archduchess Marie-Antoinette on the crowns belonging to the House of Austria have in common?
These facts relating to the history of Europe and various Member States are all recorded in a notarial act. These documents are also all part of the travelling exhibition “Europe Enacted” currently being held at the European Parliament, from 11 to 15 November.
Pierre-Luc Vogel is President of the Council of the Notariats of the European Union.
Through the history and stories it tells, this exhibition makes it possible to better define the identity of the notarial profession. The notariat is the profession of authenticity, truth, certainty and conservation of data on which the trust of States and our fellow citizens is based. At a time when false information, falsified data and money laundering are growing, this truth and certainty are more than ever essential to society.
Notaries must also ensure the long-term preservation of the deeds they receive. They are a little, and this exhibition illustrates it, the memory of our civilization.Whether or not we are historical figures, notaries are involved in the most important moments in life: marriage, buying a property, setting up a business, settling a succession, etc. Thanks to the system of continental law, the property of our fellow citizens is protected, property relations are regulated, intergenerational transmission is valued and entrepreneurs benefit from an environment that is favourable to business. This Europe, the Europe of our fellow citizens’ daily lives, must remain a priority for the European institutions alongside the major societal, economic and climate challenges we face.
During the last legislature, important texts were adopted. I am thinking of the European regulations on international successions, matrimonial property regimes and registered partnerships, the circulation of public documents, company law and the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. For the next five years, we must continue to build momentum together, European institutions and stakeholders.
The fight against money laundering is now a major priority. And the notary is an asset for the European institutions. In high-risk sectors, such as real estate transfers and the creation of companies, notaries have been cooperating with their government authorities for many years. Notaries therefore ask that legal professionals continue to be involved in European work on a subject of major importance for the European and world economy. In the future, we hope to be able to work with Mr Dombrovskis and his team with the same mutual trust that we had with his predecessor Ms Jourová.
For this new legislature, we also call on the European institutions to address the issue of the protection of vulnerable adults. More and more European citizens, due to old age or illness, are no longer able to express their wishes clearly and live or have interests in several countries. Protection regimes are not systematically recognised and a person placed under a protection regime in one Member State should be able to be protected in all Member States. A legislative proposal from the European Commission would therefore be welcome in this area.
The digitalisation of the activities of legal professionals is another reality. For notaries, it covers several aspects: creation and interconnection of registers, incorporation of online companies, rollout of the e-signature, authentic instruments on electronic media, videoconferencing and more. Today and in this field, notaries are at the forefront of the legal professions, providing a modern and efficient service for their clients and the States. Digitalisation must remain a priority, but always in constant consultation with the stakeholders concerned. Our history, our willingness to adapt in order to serve better, allows us to say that if the notarial function must be earned, our studies are long, our practice demanding. If the notarial function obliges us, it must also be respected by the European institutions.
European funding for justice must also remain consistent with the issues at stake. At notarial level, European co-funding has enabled us to organise cross-border training courses on EU legislation, develop information websites (e.g. the Couples in Europe website and the European Directory of Notaries), set up the European interconnection of registers of wills and make the online platform of the European Notarial Network available to all notaries. This co-funding has made it possible to improve notarial practice and provide better legal support for citizens.
Notaries guarantee this daily support throughout the European countries where they work. There are 40,000 notaries and their 200,000 employees who are present even in the smallest villages, where sometimes even the last café has closed. This daily support must be deepened through effective EU action. That is why, for this Europe, I propose a slogan: A Europe that protects, a Europe that is close to citizens is a Europe that needs its notaries.